The pandemic dye test
What has the pandemic experience shone a spotlight on in the life and witness of congregations?
How would you answer that question? I wonder what comes to mind as you think back over each stage of the pandemic. Can we discover anything about the local witness of the church through this global event? What has this cultural moment highlighted about your church as it seeks to reach out? Here are a few of my thoughts to get the cogs turning.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. The pandemic like dye injected into the body has revealed weaknesses within the church. Some of which we were aware, but didn’t feel able to stop long enough to deal with, and others we hadn’t really noticed. Here are a fewunderlying health conditions exposed.
Our overreliance on programmes to the detriment of relationships - Do you remember the first 12 weeks of lockdown? Great weather and you didn’t have to go out in the evenings (do bear in mind I’m highlighting only one small aspect of what was a period marked by upheaval and fear). Church programmes had stopped. The focus was on how do we maintain and develop supportive relationships. There was something that felt valuable, even sacred, in those days. Church had always been a hive of activity, but had we lost something in our busyness? Had we bought in to the frantic pace of the world and not been a place of rest for the weary? Was an overreliance on programmes to the detriment of relationships exposed?
Parents outsourcing their children’s discipleship to the church - As parents we had to be more hands on with our children’s education and discipleship too. Christian parents’ responsibility is not limited to delivering their children to the door of the church, but to bring Christ to them through all of life. Of course the wider church must work with parents to love and nurture their children, but parents are to be in the driving seat. What needs to happen now to better equip us parents to do that?
Our fear of death - Not for one minute am I suggesting we should have developed a more flippant attitude to the measures that were used to curtail the spread of the virus, especially at the early stage. The physical restrictions aren’t my focus here, but our hearts. Did we live with hope in the face of death? And as we are thinking about this in relation to our witness, was our attitude in the midst of the virus any different from the community around us? We do not live as people without hope. I wonder how we could have made our Christian hope in the face of death clearer to our friends and neighbours?
The church sparkling in local witness
The dye pumping through the church may have identified a few troubling issues, but the patient is not terminal. The church is very much alive and beaming brightly to the world. Here’s a few places I think it has sparkled in its local witness.
We want to serve others - Many churches were distributors of the food boxes provided by the government for those isolating. Through the pandemic the local church had the opportunity to serve those around them in ways that was not possible before. The reservoir of love that was stored up in church spilled out to the dry ground around it. And people drank it in.
We are a team - For church services to happen it took more than just the minister. If you were to look back over our congregation’s prayers during that first year, you would hear each person thanking the Lord for Steven. He was our technical guy. Without him no one would have heard the service. Think as well of the practical wisdom that was needed to return to our buildings - those who cleaned, stewarded, looked out for others. Church is a team, or better still church is a body with each bit playing its part. The pandemic has caused us to spotlight others in our fellowship and see their value as a member of the body, united under Christ. As the world gets more fractured and tribal, the church united in purpose under Christ becomes immensely attractive to a watching world.
We are creative - Local churches showed great creativity as they worked through, and around, the challenges of restrictions. Getting the message of Jesus out to others was so important that ways were found that may not have been considered before. It’s not surprising that we are creative because our Father is the Creator. Let’s not stop being creative. Let’s cut new tracks to connect with our community. Let’s not slip back unthinkingly into the well-worn paths that those before us cut to connect with their time and place.
We need others - The church worked in partnership with different organisations and relationships were developed. In partnership we valued others and they valued us. We began to see we have a place in the community alongside others. A place where we can contribute to our community’s wellbeing. And as we listen to the many voices that make up where the Lord has placed us, we are better able to respond to needs and speak his truth in ways that it will be heard.
We are made for face to face not screens - Much has been done through technology and we are grateful for it. But this pandemic has spotlighted our need to be in the physical presence of one another. To only look at a pixelated face with a virtual background is to look at a poor version of God’s beautiful creation. We have rediscovered the joy of being in each other’s presence. What can the church do to help people return to the God given beauty of people, truly seen and completely loved?
We have a message of hope in Jesus - Now we get to the mountain top. Here we arrive at the source of the sparkle of the local church in the community. We shine because Jesus dazzles. He is the only one who brings hope in the face of death. Jesus doesn’t prevent death. He brings life that destroys death. He is what makes our witness sparkle. Everything else highlighted are mere supporting actors and props. Jesus is the main actor on the stage. Yet he needs no spotlight. For he is blazing light.
Andrew Dawson, community outreach worker, Second Dromara Presbyterian Church